Storied Fishtown pretzel shop falls to development after 65 years

Furfari’s was one of the few remaining legacy businesses on Frankford Avenue.

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Facebook / Furfari's Soft Pretzel Bakery

Update Mar. 1: Harris Schwartz of Cam Homes confirmed to Billy Penn he is looking to develop the property as a mixed-use building with commercial on the ground floor.

The end of the line has arrived for Furfari’s Soft Pretzels. According to a sign on its facade and renderings posted online, the Fishtown staple is slated to be replaced by a pair of rowhomes after 65 years on Frankford Avenue.

Logan Capital Properties picked up the property late last year, records show, and neighbors said the baked goods factory had been dormant for months.

Stopping by for a fresh twist pulled hot off the line was for decades a breakfast ritual for many Fishtowners, though wholesale supply made up the the main business of the family-run factory, which was founded by one Charles J. Furfari in 1954.

“I remember the kids sleeping in the station wagon out front,” said Michael Chmielowski, owner of the metalwork warehouse directly across the street. He recalled the the early morning baking scene during the late 70s, when the Furfari family would arrive around 2 or 3 a.m. to get the baking done, children in tow, then head out to make deliveries around the city.

For a long time, business continued as usual. The founding pretzelier died of lung cancer in 1999 — his obituary noted that “he was still driving and delivering pretzels to schools and area stores” — but Furfari’s children kept things up and running through the Frankford Avenue real estate boom of the late-2000s.

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Max Marin / Billy Penn

The New Kensington Community Development Corporation long touted the pretzel shop as a legacy old-school institution on fast-gentrifying business corridor.

But recently the business struggled. Neighbors say things had fallen obviously into disrepair — with a tipping point coming after the sole industrial oven reportedly broke down. Though Furfari’s continued delivering salty twists to bars and stores around the city, they were shipped over from a relative’s operation in South Jersey, Chmielowski said. “Pretzels haven’t been baked there for years.”

The building’s tax delinquency has been an open secret, too. In 2015, faced with the threat of a sheriff’s sale, Furfari’s entered into a repayment agreement with the city.

But the financial woes took their toll — not least on the proprietors’ attitudes. One of the second-generation owners, who helped run the business with her brothers, was known for her sharp tongue. Social media posts detail her screaming at people for parking in front of the factory, where the family had long set out cones as savsies markers for its delivery vehicles.

“She didn’t care if people were customers or what,” Chmielowski said. “One time, there was a customer standing in line as she walked by with a big tray of pretzels. She goes, ‘Get out of my way asshole, can’t you see I’m coming through?'”

In September 2017, city health inspectors paid a visit to the bare-bones pretzel cookshop and slapped them with a litany of violations — including mouse droppings, peeling paint and employees touching food with bare hands, according to public records. A cease operation order put the business out for several days. While the issues were eventually resolved, Furfari’s would not be much longer for the world.

Today, the building at 2025 Frankford Ave. shares walls with a boutique consignment shop and a baby good store. Records show the real estate liens have been resolved, and though no permits have yet been pulled, renderings showing mixed-used construction on the site are floating around.

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Messages sent to the current property owner and to Charlie Furfari went unreturned over the weekend.

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